Tercets on love—The lovers

See how those cranes fly arcing through the sky!
The clouds they have for company on their way
Were there already when they had to fly

From one life to another far away.
Together at the selfsame height and pace
It seems an almost casual display.

That crane and cloud just chance to share the space
Of the wide skies through which they pass so briefly
So neither one may linger in this place

And all they see is one another slightly
Rocking on the wind in loose accord
Who now in flight lie side by side so lightly

The wind may carry them off into the void.
If they remain themselves, and hold on tight
They can be touched by nothing untoward

It doesn’t matter if they’re driven out
Threatened by gunshots or by stormy weather.
Indifferent to the sun and moon’s pale light

They journey on, besotted with each other.
What are you fleeing from?
          —The world.
                     —Where to?
You ask how long now have they been together?

Not long.
          —And when they’ll part?
                    —Oh, soon enough.
So love appears secure to those who love.
by Bertolt Brecht; translated by Tom Kuhn

Please join us on Friday 19 February from 6-8pm here at Oxford Brookes to celebrate the prize-winning poets of the ‘Open’ and ‘English as a Second Language’ categories in our inaugural International Poetry Competition. The event will include readings from the winners, as well as an exciting showcase of work from local young poets, mentored by award-winning writer, Kate Clanchy. Light refreshments will follow. If you would like to attend, please let us know via e-mail: poetrycomp@brookes.ac.uk by 10 February.

‘Tercets on love—The lovers’, which was originally published in German in 1930 as “Terzinen über die Liebe—Die Liebenden”, is translated by Tom Kuhn. Copyright © 1930 by Bertolt-Brecht-Erben / Suhrkamp Verlag, from Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn, and published by Liveright Publishing Corporation (2015). It is used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

This poem is the last in our series featuring work from collections shortlisted for The Poetry Society’s Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015, judged by Olivia McCannon and Clare Pollard, and supported in 2015 by the British Council. The winner of the competition was Iain Galbraith, who translated Jan Wagner’s book Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees (Arc Publications, 2015). You can find out more about the competition and all the shortlisted books on the Poetry Society website. Many thanks to the Poetry Society, and in particular Sophie Baker, for providing us with this year’s selection.

Tom Kuhn teaches at the University of Oxford, where he is a Fellow of St Hugh’s College. He works on twentieth-century drama and German exile literature and has been, since 1996, editor of the main English-language Brecht edition. There is more information about Tom’s work on the Oxford University website.

Bertolt Brecht is widely considered the greatest German playwright of the twentieth century, and to this day remains best known as a dramatist, the author of Mother CourageThe Threepenny Opera, and The Caucasian Chalk Circle, among so many other works. However, Brecht was also a hugely prolific and eclectic poet, producing more than 2,000 poems during his lifetime—indeed, so many that even his own wife, Helene Weigel, had no idea just how many he had written. Written between 1918 and 1955, these poems reflect an artist driven not only by the bitter and violent politics of his age but, like Goethe, by the untrammeled forces of love, romance, and erotic desire. Read more about the book on the Norton website.

Liveright Publishing Corporation is an imprint of W.W. Norton, that is a home for outstanding works that define and redefine our culture, and that continue to provoke interest and inspire readers around the world. Find out more about Liveright here.

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